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Kiss of the Phantom
by Julie Leto
(Penguin, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-0-451-22736-2
***
Kiss of the Phantom is a mystery, love story, drama and adventure all rolled up into one book. When it’s good, it’s great…but when it’s bad, it’s awful.

Rafe Forsyth is Romani, a married man and father to an infant son when he is trapped by dark magic in a cursed stone and he watches his family perish in front of him. For almost three hundred years, he lies trapped in the stone on the forest floor. He has chosen to grieve and wonder what could have been, numbly, never wanting or expecting to be freed.

Mariah Hunter is an Australian treasure hunter whose daring exploits have her wanted in several countries. She has lived an isolated life, risking her life for treasure and not getting too close to anyone, ever. Even her long relationship with her ex and former treasure-hunting partner, Ben, never got past the “sizzling attraction” phase. When Mariah retrieves the enchanted stone to beat Ben out, she’s suddenly bound to Rafe-who reveals himself just in time to save Mariah from some seriously bad guys that are hot on her trail.

Rafe and Mariah are now set on a course to avoid the villains, battle the dark magic that has bound Rafe, and solve Rafe’s family mystery - which goes much deeper and closer to Mariah than she ever suspected.

Kiss of the Phantom is a mixed bag- some parts of the story are very strong and compel the reader to continue even when the plot seriously sags.

Rafe is a pillar; he’s a different kind of hero and I loved it. Rafe is a family man who has been ripped from his life and his time. He manages to confront the changed world around him and his new circumstances admirably well, and without glossing over his grief and loss. Rafe really struggles with his attraction to Mariah, as he still has very real feelings towards his late wife and a healthy helping of guilt at his helplessness while she was murdered. Rafe manages to cope with his grief, while retaining a wry sense of humor and a very sexy attitude. Something else that makes Rafe very different is that he’s in touch with his emotions. He knows exactly how he feels for Mariah and isn’t confused about what it means. I appreciated seeing a hero with sincere emotions who expresses himself clearly to those around him.

Mariah is a gutsy, coldhearted lady who often comes off as too scrambled to control herself or her life. While I can appreciate that she has family baggage and failed relationships in her past, she seems inclined to self-sabotage every area of her life and then cry about how it sucks. I didn’t find her very appealing. Her only redeeming characteristic is her independent sense of sexuality - this is one woman who knows what she wants, how, when, where and why. Bravo to Leto for writing a modern woman who isn’t a wilting flower in the bedroom!

As for the mystery/family drama, I found that the multiple plots wound around one another until I was strangled with an overabundance of characters and background info over centuries, until I couldn’t remember who was who and why they were doing things.

While Mariah and Rafe’s story is the central focus of Kiss of the Phantom, there is a whole lot more going on in the book; it’s obviously part of an ongoing series, and it doesn’t stand well on its own.

Overall, Kiss of the Phantom is a frantic, tangled adventure story with a terrific hero, a somewhat sorry heroine and a few great moments. 

--Amy Wroblewsky


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